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Jason Furness


The No. 1 Reason Why Continuous Improvement Projects Fail

There is an effect we want to repeat every hour, every day, forever

Published: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 - 12:02

In a previous article I wrote about the reasons why so many lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, and other improvement programs fail. In this article I’m going to expand on reason No. 1: the Academy Award Syndrome.

Academy Award Syndrome

The Academy Award Syndrome is where a program or project is launched to much fanfare, ceremony, and expense, but six months later all that remains is a bunch of faded posters on the wall, boxes of expensive and unused workbooks, and an even more cynical and jaded bunch of employees than we had before.

In our society we are generally becoming more cynical. We are certainly overwhelmed with the launches of new initiatives from our politicians, from companies that are trying to sell us new products, and the daily media cycle that supports these launches.

Within a company our new project or initiative that we are all enthusiastic about is probably not the first that has ever occurred. If previous initiatives have been launched and then abandoned, our employees can be very cynical, and this can cripple our program.

When we launch a big initiative in the textbook way, as prescribed in many books written about the Toyota Production System, we have top management announce it to show their commitment. We have training, we have posters, T-shirts, lunches, and videos. I’m not kidding here; I have seen it happen, sadly more than once.

Two distinct effects are produced

1. A lot of time and money is spent designing the right T-shirt, video, and poster, so that all the brand themes are consistent and cultural subtleties about appropriate colors are observed. The list of ways to paralyze the program before it begins is long. The knock-on effects are to delay the start of the program, spend money before we have made it, and frustrate the people who ultimately have to do the work to make it all happen. Meanwhile your focused, effective competitor is six months further down the track, and you have not even organized the kick off BBQ!

2. Your employees having seen improvement programs come and go like the four seasons, can adopt the following behaviors:
• Sit back and wait to see if this thing will die the same way as all the others.
• Actively resist just to be proven right.
• Have a negative perception about the project before it has started.

All of these things spell death!

What do we do differently?

The effect we want to generate is a change in behaviors that quickly produce improved results. That’s it! Then we want to repeat that effect every hour, every, day, forever.

We start by just introducing one or two changes in how we work, staying focused on those changes until we see the effects we want to see appear. Then we introduce a few more, and a few more.

The point here is that we go about this in a low-key, results-focused, and supportive fashion.

The ultimate compliment you can be paid is when one of your people says something like, “Production, quality, safety, and housekeeping just seem different, better, cleaner, quieter. Not sure what is happening differently.”

Actors collect their Academy Awards after the movie is released successfully. We should do the same.

Comments are welcome and encouraged.

In my next article I will deal with the No. 2 reason why lean manufacturing and Six Sigma projects fail to deliver a spectacular return on investment: the Magic Wand Disease.


About The Author

Jason Furness’s picture

Jason Furness

Jason Furness, CEO and founder of Manufacturship, is an executive coach who provides lean manufacturing training and lean consulting in a pragmatic, hands-on way that gets clients results in a fast and sustainable manner. Furness oversees the development and delivery of Manufacturship’s curriculum, leads the mentoring of business owners and managers, and sponsors all client projects. During his 20-year career he has led 30 transformation projects for small and medium-sized enterprises. Furness is the co-author of Manufacturing Money: How CEOs Rapidly Lift Profits in Manufacturing (Amazon Digital Services, 2015).


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Great article. It is a pity that the link to the previous article is not valid.

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Thanks for bringing that to our attention. This is an old article and it looks like that web site is no longer active. We have removed the link.